After High School Indians’ Career, Wakamatsu Joins New Tribe in the Pros
Bob Toth | On 14, Feb 2016
Luke Wakamatsu had a difficult choice last summer. Would he remain committed to join the Rice University baseball program following high school, or would the former member of the Keller High School (Texas) Indians join the Cleveland Indians organization and pursue his baseball career?
Despite what was considered a “hard commit” to Rice that would make him very likely unsignable, Wakamatsu surprised some by signing with the Indians on July 9. Cleveland had selected the switch-hitting shortstop in the 20th round of the 2015 June draft with the 604th pick overall. He entered the draft as the 91st overall prospect in rankings by MLB.com and was in the top 300 on lists created by Baseball America and Perfect Game.
Wakamatsu comes from a strong baseball pedigree. He is the son of current Kansas City Royals bench coach Don Wakamatsu, who spent 18 games with the Chicago White Sox as a catcher (often as the personal receiver for knuckleballer Charlie Hough) and played a dozen seasons in the minors. His professional career ended a short time before the birth of his son, but the elder Wakamatsu did not stay out of the game for long, working in the minor leagues as a manager for the Arizona Diamondbacks from 1997 through 2000. He was the bench coach for the Texas Rangers from 2003 to 2006 and their third base coach in 2007 before moving to the Oakland A’s as their bench coach in 2008.
He became Major League Baseball’s first Asian-American manager when he was hired for the role with the Seattle Mariners for the 2009 season, but was fired in August of 2010. He was the bench coach for the Toronto Blue Jays in 2011 and 2012 and a scout for the New York Yankees in 2013 before landing in his current home as the Royals bench coach.
His son landed within the same division as his Royals.
“I still learn from him,” said the younger Wakamatsu of the instruction provided by his father in a story in the Star-Telegram on April 20, 2015. “He’s helped me be the player I am today.”
He was known during his high school years to pass along the tutelage provided from his father to aid younger players.
He was assigned to the Arizona League Indians eleven days after signing and began his professional career in Goodyear, Arizona, a return home, so to speak, for the young prospect born in Phoenix. Now, he stands 6’3”, 185 pounds and turned 19 years old after his season in the desert, hitting .267 in 27 games with five doubles, three triples, a homer, and 12 runs batted in.
He split time batting second and third in the lineup, hitting .234 in the two hole and .291 in the three spot. He fared better batting right-handed against left-handed pitching, hitting .313 in a small sample size (16 at bats). While hitting left-handed against the right-handed opposition, he hit .258 in 89 at bats, but hitting from the left side of the plate is still something new to him.
“Being a switch-hitter, I have to hit [in practice] twice as much,” he was quoted in the April 20, 2015, story in the Star-Telegram. “It’s all mental, and I have to keep with it and hit from both sides every day.”
He has said that defense is something that comes naturally for him and his high school coach considered him “as good a shortstop as any across the country.” He committed three errors for a 0.971 fielding percentage in his brief exposure in the Arizona League for the Tribe last season. In Goodyear, he showed both good range and arm strength.
While Wakamatsu has plenty of time to develop in the minors, his easiest path through the farm system at shortstop should be blocked at the Major League level by Francisco Lindor for many years to come. When he gets his first taste of A-ball in 2016, it would not be surprising to see him be worked in at other positions as well, including at weak points in the Indians farm system, second base or third base, to give him a better chance of getting to The Show.
Photo: Steve Nuremberg/Star-Telegram